Vampire Weekend Album Reviews

Ezra Koenig and drummer Chris Tomson started playing together in a rap collaboration named “L’Homme Run” while attending Columbia University. The pair were interested in punk and African music and named their band after a short film Koenig attempted to make about a vampire invasion of Cape Cod. Koenig and Tomson were joined by multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij and bassist Chris Baio.

The quartet arrived late in the indie-pop boom of the 2000s, with their debut album released in 2008. Vampire Weekend was immediately successful, cracking the US top 20, and attracting attention with its incorporation of African beats and textures into its sound. While Vampire Weekend have been immensely successful, scoring #1 albums and Grammy wins, they’ve also faced criticism for cultural appropriation; the New Yorker labelled the band as “avatars of bourgeois lameness”.

Batmanglij left the band in 2016, while Koenig wrote and produced an anime series, Neo Yokio, for Netflix. After a lengthy hiatus, Vampire Weekend returned in 2019 with their fourth album, Father of the Bride.

Vampire Weekend Album Reviews

Vampire Weekend | Contra | Modern Vampires of the City | Father of the Bride

Vampire Weekend

2008, 8/10
Vampire Weekend’s debut album showcases a band bringing unusual angles to indie pop. There’s an African influence in the guitars and rhythms – Vampire Weekend was compared to Paul Simon’s Graceland, and name-checks Peter Gabriel on the wonderfully named ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’. There’s also a chamber-pop flavour to some songs, with orchestral flavours dominating. Vampire Weekend was produced by band member Rostam Batmanglij, whose extremely impressive in his first effort.

For all the disparate musical elements that Vampire Weekend bring together on their debut, the focal point is Koenig’s lyrics and vocals. He’s reminiscent of David Byrne with his likeable awkwardness, as well as the bloodlessness of Paul Simon. He’s clearly been to university, as evidenced by the lyrics of ‘Oxford Comma’ (actually about anti-elitism) and ‘Campus’. The band’s orchestral arrangement shine on ‘M79’, while the African sound is at the forefront on standout tracks ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’.

Vampire Weekend is a fresh-sounding, tuneful debut – I’d mark it higher if the band hadn’t continued to grow with each album.


2010, 7.5/10
Vampire Weekend didn’t attempt anything radically different on their sophomore record, expanding on the framework of their debut. It’s more relaxed and diverse – it lacks the effervescence of the best tracks from Vampire Weekend, but it maps out new territory for the band. According to Koenig, the title is a reference to conflict, one that doesn’t imply that one side is better than the other.

The African textures of Vampire Weekend are still present, but they’ve been augmented with other sounds. Closer ‘I Think UR A Contra’ is pared back to synths and gentle rhythm, while Koenig tries out speed rap on ‘California English’. ‘Holiday’ resembles ska, but borrows its opening line from English folk chestnut ‘Matty Groves’ (most famously covered by Fairport Convention).

With its more subdued feel, Contra is a more difficult record to grasp than Vampire Weekend, but it’s a substantial work that repays the effort.

Modern Vampires of the City

2013, 9.5/10
Vampire Weekend’s third album utilised the studio as an instrument. Batmanglij produced along with Ariel Rechtshaid, and the pair’s objective was to make an album that sounded markedly different from their first two records. Rechtshaid stated that “Whenever we came up with something familiar sounding, it was rejected”. The production experiments with pitch shifting – Koenig’s vocals are altered on ‘Diane Young’, shifting to an Elvis baritone, while Tomson’s drums are also the focus on sonic experimentation.

Despite the world-weary tone and the studio-based nature of Modern Vampires of the City, it often retains the energetic tempos of Vampire Weekend’s earlier work – stripped of the studio candy, songs like ‘Unbelievers’ and ‘Worship You’ would still be standout tracks on earlier records. The drums are high in the mix, and provide propulsion to songs like ‘Don’t Lie’. David Gates gets a co-writing credit on standout track ‘Step’, as the song uses a sample of Grover Washington’s cover of Bread’s ‘Aubrey’, as well as showcasing Koenig’s lovely higher register. The slower tracks like ‘Hannah Hunt’ and ‘Young Lion’ are also lovely, stewing in pretty ambience.

Modern Vampires of the City won the 2014 Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and it’s well deserved – a brilliant creation that adds new timbres to Vampire Weekend without detracting from their core strengths.

Father of the Bride

2019, 9.5/10
After Modern Vampires of the City, multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij left the band. Koenig took time out from Vampire Weekend, creating the Netflix anime series Neo Yokio and becoming a father. His partner is actress Rashida Jones, which effectively makes Quincy Jones the titular Father of the Bride.

Koenig also relocated from New York to L.A., and Father of the Bride reflects the change in scenery. Like Vampire Weekend’s earlier albums, Father of the Bride is neurotic, but this time it’s paired with sun-kissed music, with healthy dollops of country and Laurel Canyon folk. Koenig was influenced by country star Kacey Musgraves, and Father of the Bride mines similar territory to 2018’s superlative Golden Hour.

With all the changes, as well as the six-year gap, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Father of the Bride to be branded as an Ezra Koenig solo project, but it’s a terrific addition to the band’s legacy. Koenig’s main collaborator is Ariel Rechtshaid, who also co-produced Modern Vampires of the City. Also prominent is Rechtshaid’s partner, Danielle Haim, who duets with Koenig on three tracks, and also contributes background vocals. Californian alternative R&B musician Steve Lacy contributes to ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Flower Moon’.

At almost an hour’s running time, Father of the Bride is significantly longer than any other Vampire Weekend studio project; Koenig felt that he owed fans a substantial record after such a long time away. Despite the length, the 18 songs are unified in feel – a Californian aesthetic tying them together. Koenig describes it as “spring-time” vibe. There are enough great songs on Father of the Bride that new highlights jump out on each listen.

The three duets with Danielle Haim punctuate the record, three country duets documenting different points in a relationship. The opener ‘Hold You Now’ is sparse and tender, while ‘We Belong Together’ is the upbeat conclusion near the end of the running order. Haim also provides backing vocals for lead single ‘Harmony Hall’ – it features a lovely acoustic riff, fluid piano, and a chorus that re-purposes the line “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die” from 2013’s ‘Finger Back’. The use of short songs helps the album’s pacing – some of my favourite songs here are brief. The pretty ‘2021’ uses a vocals sample from Jenny Lewis, while ‘Bambina’ covers an amazing amount of ground in less than two minutes of running time.

Father of the Bride is a significant departure from Vampire Weekend’s earlier work, certain to disenfranchise existing fans while creating new ones. It’s a lyrically dense, musically fascinating masterpiece that’s a contender for album of the year.

Ten Best Vampire Weekend Songs

Harmony Hall
Diane Young
Everlasting Arms
Ya Hey
I Think UR A Contra

Leave a Reply

More from Aphoristic Album Reviews

Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.

Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

Review Pages

Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:

Mitski Album Reviews

Mitski Miyawaki was born in Japan to an American father and Japanese mother. She studied at Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music, during which she self-released her first two albums, 2012’s Lush and 2013’s Retired From Sad, New Career in Business. Both albums are centered around Mitski’s piano and are formative […]
Talk Talk Spirit of Eden
Talk Talk Album Reviews

While there’s a natural progression between each of Talk Talk’s five studio albums, the distance between their 1982 synth-pop debut The Party’s Over and 1991’s jazz and ambient-influenced Laughing Stock represents one of the most stunning transformations in popular music; a band that was originally pigeonholed as a one-hit-wonder went […]
2000s Album Reviews

The first decade of the 21st century feels like my home territory. I spent my teenage years in the 1990s catching up with the 1960s and 1970s, so the 2000s were the first decade in which I actively engaged with new music. In the 2000s music splintered further into sub-genres […]
2010s Miscellany

This page collects album reviews for 2010s artists for whom I’ve only reviewed one or two albums. In 2018 I started covering new albums regularly, so this page is very heavy on the last couple of years of the decade. (Sandy) Alex G | Michaela Anne | Big Big Train […]
Jason Isbell The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell Album Reviews

Jason Isbell joined Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley as a guitarist and vocalist in acclaimed Southern Rock band, The Drive-By Truckers, in 2002. He immediately impressed with songs like ‘Outfit’, which details his father’s advice to him upon joining the band (“Don’t worry about losing your accent, a southern man […]
Randy Newman Album Reviews

L.A.’s Randy Newman was born into the music business – his grandparents, uncles, and cousins all worked as film score composers. Newman’s also best-known for his film scores, such as Toy Story and Ragtime. ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ from Toy Story is arguably his most well-known song, while […]

Blog Posts

I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections:

10 Best Covers of Carole King Songs

Before she released her record-breaking solo album Tapestry in 1971, Carole King had already enjoyed a prolific musical career. She’d inspired Neil Sedaka’s ‘Oh! Carol’ and written a hit song for her daughters’ babysitter (Little Eva’s ‘Loco-motion’). The 1960s hits that she wrote with her husband Gerry Goffin helped make […]
10 Best Albums of 2022

Even in 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic still looms large over popular music. Many of these albums were affected by events – forcing delays or changes in personnel. As always, there was a wealth of excellent music recorded in 2022 – here are my ten favourites that I covered through this […]
Lindsey Buckingham Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

It’s difficult to blame Lindsey Buckingham for having a chip on his shoulder. He’s the studio mastermind, the live spark, and the restless creator behind the imperious pop era of Fleetwood Mac. But Buckingham is little known by the general public, for whom Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood are the […]
Rage Against The Machine 1992 Debut
10 Best Rage Against the Machine Songs

Rage Against the Machine’s debut album was a slow-burn success. Their debut single ‘Killing in the Name’ was initially released in 1992, and became the Christmas #1 single in the UK in 2009. Parent album Rage Against the Machine didn’t crack the US top 40 but eventually went triple platinum. […]
The 10 Best Pet Shop Boys Songs

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe met in a hi-fi shop in Chelsea in 1981. Tennant had bought a Korg synthesizer and the pair bonded over their shared love of electro-pop singles like ‘Souvenir’ by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and ‘Bedsitter’ by Soft Cell. The pair formed Pet Shop Boys, […]
10 Best Moody Blues Songs

Birmingham band The Moody Blues have one of the most misleading names in popular music. It fit to start with – their early repertoire was based on American blues, and their cover of Bessie Banks’ ‘Go Now’ topped the UK charts in early 1965. They played on the Ed Sullivan […]
%d bloggers like this: